What is the Difference Between Defamation and Libel?

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  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2020
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Defamation and libel are related terms that both concern statements made that are usually untrue and reflect harmfully on the reputation of an individual, group, or entity. The principal difference between these terms is that defamation refers to statements made in any way, and libel specifically occurs when these comments are recorded in a permanent way. In other words, libel is a type of defamation. Another common type of defamation is slander, where harmful statements are made in impermanent ways that aren’t intentionally recorded. The common distinction that slander is spoken while libel is written is not exactly accurate; libel can certainly be spoken, provided damaging statements are recorded into some medium.

The laws that govern charges for defamation and libel are complex and vary by region. Attempting either is usually a matter for civil courts, though not always, and proving charges isn’t always easy. With libel charges it can be easy to get an example of a statement that presumably is defamatory. These might be found in any print publication, on websites, at press conferences, on broadcast programs, in taped interviews, and in other forms. Proving a person meant to be malicious is more difficult to accomplish.


When a person is charged with defamation or more particularly, libel, they have a number of defenses. They can claim they didn’t know the information was wrong, they were expressing an opinion, or that they really did no harm to the person by their statements. Another defense is that a reasonable person could certainly conclude the libelous statement was true based on other evidence.

Some of the common examples of defamation and libel, specifically, include things like making statements about the sexual behavior of others or calling into question marital fidelity. Recording false claims about a business’ quality that hurt its profits is another way to commit both defamation and libel. A recent addition is deliberate attempts to destroy a business’ or individual’s reputation by using the Internet. Posting repeated negative comments about someone else in an attempt to sink a business (sometimes called a Google® bomb), deeply damage a personal reputation — and there are tragic examples with the latter — and it is certainly illegal. It’s also more difficult to get rid of Internet content — once it’s published, it may be republished into perpetuity.

Many countries dearly hold to the principal that freedom of speech should be protected, and some argue that legal charges of defamation and libel reduce this freedom. It’s true that people can express their opinion, and it’s good to recall that stating an opinion is one defense against a defamation charge. Opinion, particularly if it’s negative, can’t be presented as true fact because this causes statements to be viewed as empirical, rather than hypothetical. Defamation and libel charges arise when statements appear empirical but are false, and when the goal of the making the statement is to hurt the subject of it. Many believe such statements are an abuse of free speech.


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Post 2

What if a dental office puts in your permanent record that you are a difficult patient and it makes it difficult to get a new dentist to finish unfinished work?

Absolutely nothing occurred between myself or anyone in the office, but upon discovering they may have been responsible for causing a healthy tooth to become infected that then required an $1,100 dollar root canal, they told me I could not come back to complete my treatment because I treated the staff badly! They also will not release my records to me, nor will they tell me what the alleged bad behavior was on my part.

Post 1

What if someone assumes that an internet statement is made about them, but it never identifies their name? In turn, they are threatening a lawsuit.

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